Return from Extinction: The Triumph of the Elephant Seal

Orca. (Orca Wild). Oct. 2020. 96p. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781459821361.
Gr 3-7–Readers may not initially feel compelled to care about the plight of the deafeningly loud marine mammals known as elephant seals. Admittedly, neither did Richards, who recounts pulling her car over during a trip to Hearst Castle in California and becoming fascinated. In a thorough overview featuring accessible language and humor that complements the text, Richards creates a compelling journey. Her style could be described as Mary Roach for children. Using photos and well-crafted text, Richards outlines what makes these amazing creatures so distinctive (bodies the size of a bus, the ability to recognize one another’s voices and to become watertight). She also tells a story that is both new and familiar; while elephant seals were once hunted sparingly by Native Americans, European settlers preyed upon them mercilessly, leading to virtual extinction. Later, conservation efforts issued by the Mexican government, such as banning the hunting of northern elephant seals and designating Guadalupe Island as a biological reserve, gave the seals a chance to recover and return to the Pacific Coast. There are almost a quarter million alive today. The straightforward language means this text can be read by older elementary students, but the complex sociobiological history and charismatic tone make it appealing to students in late middle school.
VERDICT An ecological success story with humor and heart that earns its place in any middle grade library.

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